What is Instagram Threads and how does it work?

You may have heard that Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg have called each other out for a cage fight. Well, it appears that now they may really have something to fight about.

Mark Zuckerberg’s company Meta (formerly Facebook, Inc.) has released a social networking app called Threads that’s similar in many ways to the Twitter app that’s currently owned by rival billionaire, Elon Musk. What is Instagram Threads? Here’s all you need to know.

What is Threads?

Threads is a new app (sort of) from Meta, the company that owns Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp. The app has been designed and built by the Instagram team and is described as an app for sharing text updates and joining public conversations.

Sound familiar? Well, if you’re thinking that it sounds a lot like Twitter, you’d be right. It seems that Meta has spotted a potential gap in the market for a microblogging social network that isn’t beset by some of the issues currently facing Twitter. Interestingly, a similar app also called Threads was announced in 2021 but we’ve not heard much about it again until now, where the app seems to have had a revamp and relaunch.

What does Threads offer?

The Threads app allows you to post messages of up to 500 characters in length, which is significantly higher than the 280 characters currently offered by Twitter (unless you’re signed up to Twitter Blue) and the same as the default 500 characters offered by Mastodon. Your posts can include photos, videos up to five minutes long, and web links.

Source: Meta

How does Threads work?

Once you’ve downloaded the app, you can sign in with your existing Instagram account. Your username will carry over to your Threads account, as will your verification if you have it, and you can choose to customise your profile for your new Threads account.

Screenshots of account search, reposting, and a repost in a feed on Threads

Source: Meta

You can then choose to automatically follow the same accounts that you already follow on Instagram, as well as finding and adding new accounts to follow from within the Threads app. Your feed is a mix of posts from people you follow and recommended content. You can reply to, repost, or quote posts from other people in much the same way that you can in rival apps.

Is anyone I’ve heard of on Threads?

Any new social networking app takes time to grow, but since you can access Threads by signing in to your Instagram account, it shouldn’t take long to see significant user numbers. Some early adopters include Shakira, F1 driver Lando Norris, NBA player Seth Curry, soccer star Kingsley Coman, and everyone’s favourite sweary chef, Gordon Ramsay.

What is different about Threads?

So far, so familiar. However, there is a major plan for Threads in the pipeline. Although it isn’t the case at present, the aim is to make Threads compatible with ActivityPub. This is a decentralised social networking protocol that allows social networking apps to interconnect with other apps that use the same protocol. The goal is to allow Threads users to interact with accounts on different social media platforms. So, for example, someone on Mastodon could request to follow your Threads account, and you could approve or deny that request directly from within Threads. You could then follow their Mastodon posts in your Threads feed, without ever creating a Mastodon account. Whilst this feature isn’t yet available, it’s exciting to see how it develops.

Is Threads safe?

Threads offers many of the features that are built into Instagram to help you filter out the content that you’d rather not see. You can control who can reply to you or mention you in a post, and you can add a word filter so that any posts containing those words don’t appear in your feed or in your replies. Any accounts you’ve blocked on Instagram are automatically blocked on Threads too, and you can unfollow, restrict, or block accounts from directly within Threads.

Screenshots of the hidden words feature on Threads showing the current filtered words and controls over who can mention you in posts

Source: Meta

Threads will also enforce Instagram’s Community Guidelines, which include only allowing posts that are appropriate for a diverse audience and not allowing posts that contain hate speech or are intended to degrade or shame private individuals. This is another way that Threads is aiming to distance itself from some of its rivals; Meta is keen to point out that more than $16 billion has been invested in the teams and tech required to enforce the guidelines on Instagram, and those same resources will be used to keep Threads a place for ‘positive and productive conversations.’

Does Threads respect privacy?

Well, it’s an app owned by Meta, but make of that what you will. However, there does seem to be a focus on privacy from the outset. Anyone under 18, or under 16 in some countries, is automatically set up with a private profile when they first sign in. They can then approve users on Threads who want to follow them, just like you can on Instagram. And many of the same privacy features that appear on Instagram, such as the ability to block or report other users, are included in Threads.

How do you get Threads?

Threads is being rolled out in more than 100 countries around the world as of 6 July 2023. It’s currently available for iOS and Android and can be downloaded from the Apple App Store or the Google Play Store.

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